The Rip Post                                Riposte Special Report


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by Louis Scaduto

Vos Iz Neias


(Aug. 30, 2006)

This is the story of a rabbi. And a real estate developer. Actually, a rabbi real estate developer. Oh, and he’s also a refugee rescuer. A rabbi real estate developer refugee rescuer. (Say it fast ten times.) I could not verify that this rabbi has rescued refugees, but the claim is widely accepted that he and at least one other rabbi worked together to enable Jews to leave Iran in 1979, during the reign of the Ayatollah Khomeini.
          Bravo. That should make him a hero in anyone’s book.
          This is also the story of the rabbi real estate developer refugee rescuer's attorney. Who is also, according to papers filed with the state government, his chief executive officer. Who is also, according to those same papers, his chief financial officer. Who is also his secretary. So he's an attorney secretary chief executive officer chief financial officer.
          And this is the story of a lovely, stately, 28-unit apartment building in Santa Monica. About 50 people reside there, including young families, single working people, well-to-do professionals, and old folk. One of the old folk, Nathalie Zeidman, is 91. She is under treatment for cancer. Another is Kit Snedaker, well-known freelance writer and former food and travel editor of the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner. Kit is 85, and in fine fettle.
          If the rabbi and his attorney have their way, they will make refugees of Kit, Nathalie, and all the residents of the bucolic Teriton Apartments at 130-142 San Vicente Boulevard. They want to tear the place down---for some, a home of 30 or 40 years---in order to build a complex that they claim will include a synagogue, refugee housing, and high-end life-lease condos for “wealthy people.”
          A rabbi who allegedly rescues Jews. . .proposing to tear down the 35-year-home of a sick, elderly Jewish woman---Zeidman. . .
          Can you say “not kosher?”

"Or Haim Hashalom has a history of resettling refugees,” said Perry, adding “Well, that’s not correct. Well, it’s partially correct."

          This is just one irony of a very troubling, complicated---and some Teriton residents say fraudulent---situation; yet another instance of graceful old Southern California being callously condemned. Damn the consequences to neighborhoods, history, lives.
          “In my mother’s case,” said Dan Zeidman, Nathalie’s son, “there is research that shows one of the worst things you can do to a person of that age is to move them away from their home. Frequently what happens is they take a turn for the worse. Her memory is not that good, so she says to me virtually every day, ‘We’re getting evicted, we have to move out of here.’”
          I phoned Rosario Perry, the attorney for Rabbi Hertzel Illulian, whose Hasidic non-profit religious organization, Or Haim Hashalom, owns the Teriton Apartments. Perry said he does not see being evicted from one’s longtime home as a hardship, at least for some tenants:
          “First of all, half the people and maybe more that live at that building can afford to move and pay rent in the city of Santa Monica at current rent levels,” he told The Rip Post, undisguised disgust in his voice. “They have to move from their ocean view apartments (there is a distant view of the sea from part of the building) and live somewhere else in Santa Monica. People move. I don’t think that’s a hardship, personally.”
          Well, not meaning to sound like a bleeding heart here, but personally, I’d say if you’re 91 and have cancer, lifting a couch can be a bit of a strain.
           Of course, one must remember that Rosario Perry not only represents the refugee-rescuing real-estate-developer-rabbi, but he is also listed in a March, 2006 "Statement of Information" filed with the California Secretary of State as CEO, secretary, and CFO of the outfit that owns the apartments, Or Haim Hashalom. 
          So many interests, and so little conflict!
          Perry spoke to The Rip Post at length. Vented, perhaps, is a better term. He dismissed as a “sham” residents’ claims that the building has historical value (see accompanying column), claimed that even “poor” Teriton residents living under rent control will have no trouble finding City of Santa Monica affordable housing, and vehemently rejected the word, “refugees”---as applied to Mrs. Zeidman and the Teriton residents:
          “That’s silly! It’s just silly!. . .These people are not going to be on the street,” he said. “They’re not going to be in downtown L.A.. I personally don’t see it as ‘refugees.’ We’re not creating refugees!”
          Oddly enough, he also personally rejected the word, “refugees,” in connection with Rabbi Illulian’s proposed. . .refugee center.
          “We don’t want to call it a refugee center,” he said. “We’re building housing, but it is transitional housing, but our hope is that people can live here for maybe year or two years, find jobs, housing, and then move on. And leave the unit open for next person. This is not a refugee center where we have tents, food from the Red Cross!”
          Ah, then it is sort of a way station? A half-way house?
          “Don’t use those words!”
          Oh. Okay.
          So it’s “transitional housing” for people we are not supposed to call refugees, but who will have fled tyranny or persecution in the Middle East. By the way, I asked Perry, exactly who are these refugees-who-we-are-not-supposed-to-call-refugees? Where will they come from? How many are there? What sort of system does Rabbi Illulian have to rescue them?
          “That is confidential!” he said.
          So, apparently, is Rabbi Illulian. I asked to interview him, but Perry said this was impossible, that the rabbi cannot have any contact “with the public” on this issue. (Never mind the rabbi’s attendance at an Aug. 11 meeting with the City of Santa Monica, in which he pushed to resolve landmark status of the building.) There has been a lot of hate mail, Perry proclaimed, and besides, the rabbi is busy “taking care of kids, providing alternative recreation for them after school because there’s so much problems (sic) with people selling drugs.”
          The rabbi sounded like quite a guy. I asked about his organization that helps to take care of these troubled kids. It is called JEM, said Perry, adding that it was “Jewish Educational---can’t remember the rest.” (It’s “Jewish Educational Movement.”) This is a synagogue, he explained, but not the synagogue that bought the Teriton apartments, Or Haim Hashalom.
          Eh? A rabbi with two synagogues? That's a lot of shalom. If you are finding all this a bit confusing, well, to paraphrase Al Jolson, you ain’t heard nothin’ yet!
          “Or Haim Hashalom has a history of resettling refugees,” said Perry, adding “Well, that’s not correct. Well, it’s partially correct."
          Well, which is it?
          "The rabbi has a history of doing this. He is Or Haim Hashalom’s rabbi. We are affiliated with his synagogue as well. Jem Synagogue in Beverly Hills.”
          Pressed for clarification, Perry offered this:
          “People belonging to (Rabbi Illulian’s) synagogue decided to do a specialty project under his care and supervision. They created this separate synagogue to focus on the Santa Monica project. There is no headquarters other than his synagogue.”
          Got it? Nope---me, neither.
          Perry said a quick Google would yield much information about Rabbi Illulian and his work with refugees. I found nothing. He said a quick Google (which he pronounced “Gurgle,” possibly as a joke) would yield much information about Or Haim Hashalom. I found nothing. He said a quick Google would yield much information about JEM Synagogue. I found only a corporate logo for a “Jem Synagogue Network” in Virginia. He said that JEM had a website that would answer all my questions about it. The site was “under construction.” I did find a “Jewish Educational Movement” in a list of tax-exempt organizations, at 4929 Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles.
          (In the middle of conveying all this, by the way, a toilet flushed loudly. Perry, apparently, also needed a quick Google.)

“If Rosario Perry comes up with comparable housing, as he promises,” she said, “I will dance naked at the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, accompanying myself on the bagpipes.”---Kit Snedaker.

           It gets murkier. Christie Savage, a 32-year resident of the Teriton, researched Or Haim Hashalom, and came up with three Southern California listings, none of which were synagogues:
          *5461 W. Jefferson, L.A. 90016, with signage indicating a lighting business with two subsidiaries.
          *6317 Wilshire Blvd., # 502, listed on the building directory as the office of a family practice allergist.
          *312 Pico Boulevard, Santa Monica---the offices of. . .Rosario Perry.
          Small world!
          What’s more, Or Haim Hashalom, Savage found, was incorporated as a non-profit religious organization just this year---Jan. 30, 2006. So it appears---appears---that Or Haim Hashalom is presently a synagogue in name only, a sort of theoretical temple with a theoretical congregation.
          Such is not the case with Rabbi Illulian’s JEM Synagogue, which Perry described as a fully-functioning house of worship in Beverly Hills. It does exist, although in a rather surprising way. Because there was no information readily available on-line, I dropped by what Perry called the JEM Synagogue one afternoon. The address took me to the old Beverly Hills YMCA building at 9930 Santa Monica Bouelvard.
          Now, I don’t know much about synagogues, but I can tell you this: JEM is a great place to worship the temple of the body, if not the Almighty.
          It’s mostly a gym.
          The building was largely deserted, and there was no one manning the front desk, so I helped myself to some literature. It appeared that Rabbi Illulian is indeed very much engaged in running a variety of wonderful programs for children, including Hebrew classes, arts and crafts instruction, baseball, soccer, football, kickball, hockey, volleyball, karate, Jewish culture camps, games, day camps.
          But. . .synagogue?
          There were no signs calling the place a synagogue, and the word did not appear in any handouts I could find. As near as I can tell, the building is referred to either as the JEM Center, or the Beverly Hills Athletic Day Camp, or, as a sign above the front desk said, “The Beverly Hills Community Sports Center.” The various youth programs, according to the handouts, come under the heading, “Camp Jem Athletic Day Camp.”
          I took a look around. Upstairs came the sounds of kids working out karate moves. And then I found it---I think. In one of the many rooms of this former Y, there was what appeared to be a place of worship: a few dozen chairs, a podium where a Torah and other books randomly rested, some prayer shawls jumbled in a corner. Was this the synagogue? Apparently so.
          It makes one wonder exactly what sort of complex Or Haim Hashalom/Illulian wishes to build on the Teriton site---something which has also not been terribly clear. Perry has described the proposed site as “38 to 40 units, including some for sale, a temple for worship, and possibly a day-care center,” according to an article by Kevin Herrera in the Santa Monica Daily Press, which also referred to “high-end condominiums.”
          In further conversation with The Rip Post, Perry objected to the Santa Monica Daily Press’s use of the term, “high-end condominium,” knocked the City of Santa Monica, and scoffed at the Teriton residents’ protests:
          “High-end condos---that’s a misstatement by the newspaper. We have not yet finalized a model, but we are thinking that we should have low income, low rental units, but to help subsidize the cost of maintaining and building it, we might have some condos we could sell life estates in. . .(where) wealthy people who like the project can live there for life, and when they die can turn the property back to synagogue. It generates cash up front which helps us pay bills.”
          Yes, it certainly should. Given the value of real estate on San Vicente, about 100 yards from glorious Palisades Park, it probably will generate enough cash to pay the electric and phone and gas, all right. Maybe with enough left over for milk.
          What’s more, Perry, who claims that Or Haim Hashalom will lose $500,000 per year on the Teriton, blamed the city of Santa Monica for forcing the inclusion of the “life-lease residences:”
          “If the city would allow us to build 50 or 60 units at the site,” he said, “We would not need high end contributors. They’re only going to allow us to build 38 units under current zoning.”
          If this is leaving you all wondering about how refugees-who-are-not-called-refugees from tyrannical regimes will get enough money to rent or lease “units” in Santa Monica, where two-bedroom apartments routinely go for $2500, then you are thinking much the same way I am. And if you are wondering how Or Haim Hashalom managed to purchase the $11 million Teriton Apartments, we are also using the same calculator.
          Then there is the big bugaboo of religion. Here you have a neighborhood that long ago used to exclude Jews---now about to host a residential building that excludes everyone except Jews. The Santa Monica Daily Press reported that some at the Aug. 11 hearing charged reverse-discrimination:
          Patricia Hoffman, who is not a tenant but is opposed to the project, said when she first moved to Santa Monica, there were restrictive, racial covenants preventing those of the Jewish faith from purchasing homes in certain neighborhoods. Today, those same blocks are filled with people of all religious and ethnic backgrounds. “To create property with religious covenants is reprehensible,” Hoffman said.
          There are other troubling questions dogging Teriton tenants:
          *What is the connection between the Teriton’s previous owner, Asan Development, and Or Haim Hashalom? Realtor Kathy Golshani signed an application for demolition on behalf of Asan last November, which failed, yet she is an official in the management company now employed by Or Haim Hashalom, Pacific Paradise Realty.
          *What was the nature of Rabbi Illulian’s reported departure from Chabad House? About twenty phone inquiries to Chabad over a week’s time failed to elicit a response. When I asked Perry to look into it, he said, “No, I’m not going to take the trouble. I’m working and I’ve got to bill my clients. I’m not here to fight this issue in the press with some tenants who half the information they say is inaccurate (sic).”
          *Is the management company pretending to lose rent checks, as some tenants claim, then using that as a pretext to instigate eviction proceedings for non-payment of rent? (Calls to the management company, Pacific Paradise, went unreturned.)

"There is no synagogue, there is no congregation and there is no mission for the ‘greater good.’ There is simply a nonprofit religious corporation located at an attorney's office that now owns a building that potentially has great value if it can be developed."---Teriton resident Bernard C. Wesson.

          Meanwhile, the Teriton rests deceptively peacefully near the junction of Ocean and San Vicente, as it waits to find out if it will soon rest in peace. As for Snedaker, Zeidman, and the other residents, Perry says he made offers of cash settlements in excess of the $5,000 required of the city, but as yet has no takers.
          “We’re communicating with the senior citizens at the building, and we have made an offer for those people to relocate, but we didn’t get any calls back," he said. "Either no one’s poor at the building, or they don’t want to take advantage of the offer.”
          Oh, there are poor people at the building, Mr. Perry. In one case, a tenant has taken President Bush’s inspiring e-Bay advice seriously. She partially pays her rent by buying garage-sale goods and re-selling them for a tiny profit on e-Bay. That’s high livin’!
          And as for the alleged offers, I yield the floor to Snedaker:
          “Perry has made no offers, monetary or otherwise, in writing or orally to me or anyone I know, about moving out now or in the future. And as he knows, the larger the apartment and the older the tenant, the more the city requires the evictor to pay and the more time he must give the evictee.”
          Even financially strapped Teriton residents, Perry claimed, will have no trouble finding comparable housing---at even cheaper rent:
          “There are people who are low income and cannot afford to rent apartments in Santa Monica, but the city has a program, and if city steps up to the plate, all the people who are poor will be housed in city housing for low income. . .and the city has some pretty nice buildings. It’s gonna be a hardship because they have to relocate, but rents are going to go down. If they find Santa Monica city housing, they’re gonna pay a third of the rent!”
          I gave Snedaker this remarkable news. Brace yourself. Her response is graphic:
          “If Rosario Perry comes up with comparable housing, as he promises,” she said, “I will dance naked at the corner of Ocean Avenue and San Vicente Boulevard, accompanying myself on the bagpipes.”
          The longtime journalist stood in her homey, vintage late ‘40’s kitchen---of the ilk you find in coffee table nostalgia books about old Los Angeles---opening a can of food for her cocker-spaniel, Joe. This was hardly your cutting edge kitchen-on-steroids that you find in the average new condo. No stainless steel, no granite countertops---just good, old-fashioned black-and-white tile, beige linoleum floor. Stew-pots hung willy-nilly from a beam above the stove, and a back door opened on to a porch where milkmen once left their orders.
          “When I moved here in 1979,” said Snedaker, “I planned to leave feet first, rather than kicking and screaming as I hold on to the door.”
          What of the Perry-vaunted Santa Monica Housing? There is a two-year wait, she reported, noting that the city “won’t even take your name” at present. And even if such housing could be had easily, she would be trading her airy, homey two-bedroom apartment for something the city would assign to her---either a one-bedroom or single.
           She would also be trading away her beloved dog, Joe. The city has a no-pets rule.
          “This place is just perfect for me,” she said. “I use one of the bedrooms as an office. It has a front door and a back door. It’s great for me and the dog. It’s close to everything I want: grocery stores, library, Palisades Park. . .I don’t feel like giving up my home in order to secure Rosario Perry’s interests. He made a risky investment, and expects us to move to the street in order that he can get a return on his investment. I don't recall signing up for that."
           Tom Cruise's career dive has nothing to do with Scientology, George W. Bush is universally loved, and profit has little to do with this whole situation. That last notion, at least, is attributable to Perry. Yes, he said, this is all a matter of charity and helping victimized Jews who live under oppressive regimes---even though he will not say if, how, when any rescues will be accomplished, or how many people might be involved.
          In a move that certainly puts the chutz in chutzpah, Perry actually chided the residents of the Teriton Apartments for not being willing to give up their homes for the Rabbi’s alleged---alleged---refugee-rescuing program. Here is the quote:
          “This is for the greater good of everybody!” said Perry. “It’s almost like saying if a guy has a headache, do you give him aspirin, or do you take care of the guy that’s dying? You always try to take care of the people who need help first. A Lot of people have lived there (the Teriton) for a long time. If they can turn around and share the space, we can all pitch in. It’s a world effort we are attempting to perform.”
          Quick, cue “We Are The World.”
          Told of Perry’s words, Teriton resident Ben C. Wesson fired off an e-mail that is still smoking:
          “There is no synagogue, there is no congregation and there is no mission for the ‘greater good.’ There is simply a nonprofit religious corporation located at an attorney's office that now owns a building that potentially has great value if it can be developed. Misrepresenting a real estate development deal as a religious mission for the ‘greater good’ while threatening the elderly and other hard working citizens of our community with eviction, and destroying a historic landmark in the process, is not only offensive to most people of any faith, it is probably illegal as well.”
          I also read Perry’s warm-and-fuzzy quote to Snedaker. When she finished laughing, she said this:
          “Perry isn’t asking us to share the space. He’s asking us to give up our homes so his synagogue will make a decent return on its investment. Sharing means both sides give something. What is Perry offering to share? If he were serious about helping the people who need it most, he’d have advised his client to choose a less pricey vacant lot in a location where he could achieve higher density, not the complicated Teriton.”
          But---but---what of helping people?
          “If he were serious about helping people, he’d be in Lebanon en situ helping those people rebuild or in Iraq rebuilding that country’s infrastructure, not tossing elderly tenants out to accommodate Middle Eastern Jews, some of whom must be wealthy to qualify for the up-market condos and rental units he plans to build. Those who aren’t rich enough, according to Perry, will apply for public assistance. In other words, we will not only lose our homes, but as tax payers, help subsidize some of the folks who move into a space that we once enjoyed!
          “If he were serious,” Snedaker added, “Perry wouldn’t have advised his client to make such a risky investment as the Teriton, which involves evictions, destroying part of an historic district (see accompanying column), demolition, dislocation of elderly tenants, and great public ill will.”
          Not to mention the scrutiny of The Rip Post.

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